The Photograph Considered number eleven – Kylie Foley

The Photograph Considered number eleven – Kylie Foley

The Perfect Imperfections. 5 x 7 tintype

I’m three years into my wet plate collodion adventure, and I’ve yet to find another technique which generates so much frustration and satisfaction rolled into the same process.

At the beginning, everything I thought I knew about photography was thrown out the window. My approach had to change. I had to learn about chemicals and then how to make my own. I had to slow my workflow down to minimise failure, give more consideration to all the elements because I only get one go at this before I have to repeat every single step again.

Moving from digital to large format has been a huge learning curve. But an enjoyable one, now I find this technique almost mediative. I’ve also come to welcome and sometimes be deliberate in seeking the imperfections that collodion is synonymous with.

This portrait is of my daughter, who I begged to photograph so I could test out my newly acquired vintage lens. It’s a brass 1853 Voigtlander 275mm F3.3 imported from Poland to accompany my 8 x 10 Chamonix large format camera.

This lens actually pre-dates the process I’m using it for. The quality of the optics is special, and I feel very fortunate to have this lens in my collection.

This portrait was captured early in the evening in my studio. I needed to opt for studio lighting. I used one strobe light as my main light from a Bowens 6k quadmatic pk and 1 continuous light for fill.

The lights were positioned very close to my subject, approximately less than a meter away. And the lens was left wide open. I had a reducing back on the camera so I could create a 5 x 7 tintype.


In the darkroom I took a 5 x 7 plate of tin and coated it with collodion, the collodion was about eight weeks ripe it and still processed a reasonable speed to it. Once coated its placed into a silver bath to sensitize for three minutes.

I use this time to fine tune my composition and make sure focus is still sharp. When the plate is ready its removed from the silver bath I remove the excess silver before the plate is placed in to a wet plate holder under a safe light.

Back at the camera I do a final check of focus as given a lot of my subjects are often children, movement is unquestionable.

The lens is set at wide open and the flash is instant and fired using a cord. It is epic being 6000 watts of instant light you can literally feel the heat come from the pack.

I have since updated the lighting and bought another two strobes into the collection.

After the exposure I move quickly back into the darkroom and begin the development process.

Kylie Foley’s 3 x 2 metre darkroom

The developer is poured over the plate in a consistent flow and using a manual agitation movement. I watch for my highlights and shadows to appear. This commonly occurs around the 16-22 second mark. At this point I stop the development with distilled water and can now view my results under normal lights. The plate now looks like a negative.

The next part of the process is fixing of the plate and it’s here the magic appears. Once emerged in the fixer the image will slowly become visible and reveal your successes and sometimes your failures.

At this point the plate is transferred to fresh running water to remove as much chemical trace as possible. My usual 30 minute rinse is adequate. The plate is then dried thoroughly on a rack before being varnished in a lavender scented sandarac. This varnish preserves the image and halts the oxidization process.


I was really thrilled with this test plate so much so that we headed straight back into the studio to make a second plate.

I have since entered this first plate and secured finalist spots in two major and prestigious portrait competitions in Australia. It has been exhibited in three galleries recently including Cessnock Regional Gallery and Lismore Regional Gallery. I feel excited that this portrait has taken a life of its own.

While I acknowledge the Victorian pioneer photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll, I do hope to create my own path in the quest for the perfect portrait.

More of Kylie’s photographs can be seen on her website.

Kylie Foley with 8 x 10 view camera

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